Iran's Temporary Marriage Law

Posted by Jeremy Morley | Mar 06, 2012 | 0 Comments

Iran's parliament has passed legislation this week that expressly authorizes “temporary marriages” and requires their registration only in limited circumstances, primarily if the woman becomes pregnant.

The law allows men to have as many sexual partners as they want, sanctioned by sharia law under the term "temporary marriage".

Sex outside marriage is a crime in Iran punishable by 100 lashes or, if adulterous, by stoning to death. However, temporary marriage is a way around those provisions. Such a marriage can be for a few minutes or several years. If a couple is married, the man -- but not the woman – can have as many additional temporary marriages as he wants. 

The system is known as the sigheh system and the marriage contracts are known as Nikaḥ al-Mut'ah("pleasure marriage") contracts. They are fixed-term contractual marriages and are customary in the Shia tradition.

The man in a temporary marriage can end the sigheh at almost any time, but there is no divorce right for women in temporary marriages. For her they continue until they automatically expire at the end of the stated period of time.

A spokeswoman for the Iranian Parliament's Cultural Commission had proposed that registration should be compulsory for all temporary marriages. That proposal was rejected on the grounds of privacy. A member of the Parliament's Legal and judicial Commission stated that the main appeal of temporary marriages is that are unregistered, because family issues, especially marriage, are among the most private matters in an individual's life, and lawmakers should not interfere so deeply in people's private affairs.

Many people consider sigheh to be a type of legalized prostitution. Others see it as a loophole for couples to have a relationship within the rigid Islamic laws Women who practice temporary marriage are often the poor and desperate, while men from any age and economic status may find the practice attractive. It was the subject of a film in 2009 entitled In the Bazaar of Sexes, the poster for which is shown above.

About the Author

Jeremy Morley

Jeremy D. Morley was admitted to the New York Bar in 1975 and concentrates on international family law. His firm works with clients around the world from its New York office, with a global network of local counsel. Mr. Morley is the author of "International Family Law Practice,...


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